Memory: Hearts and minds under siege

In the series titled The Memory Project, Free Press Kashmir aims to recreate the clampdown through people’s memories and document lived experiences of a people under siege. We also urge our readers to use the hashtag #TheMemoryProject on Twitter, to add to the conversation.


Jammu and Kashmir is under the direct rule of Government of India for more than a year now.

It is spinning in the vortex of a political vacuum, into the chasm of uncertainty, into the disappearance of voices; the silence is deepening and bludgeoning bloody Kashmir into icy isolation, shrouds of deliberate misinformation blankets bloating graveyards.

Life continues to be micromanaged by the military presence and unilateral decisions.

There is a normalcy that normalizes killings, curfews, stifling dissent, criminalizing thoughts, protests, funerals, gatherings, a normalcy that allows communication clampdown and mass arrests.

It was curfew then, and it is curfew now.


Prologue to Pain: Divided, Disempowered, Downgraded

August 5, 2019

On a sunny, hot, and humid day, there is a curfew and a communication clampdown.

The Internet has been cut off. Mobile phones don’t work. Cable TV signals have been turned off.

Streets silent, empty, and de-peopled. Traffic has disappeared. Movement has been proscribed. Shops shuttered down. Every street corner is manned by the armed forces. Barricades, bunkers, barbed wire, jackboots, armored olive vehicles, government forces lay siege.

There is a siege on minds, bodies, and souls too. Kashmir has been shackled, handcuffed, with a noose tightened.

It is a blackout.

Every breath is monitored.

No one is being allowed to go out or come in.

To prevent protests, pre-emptive detentions have made the jails jam-packed with people who have a voice. Common people are locked up in a huge open-air prison with a blanket ban on communication and movement.

The day marked the beginning of a struggle for medicines, food, essentials, and above all the basic human need to communicate.

By the previous midnight, more than eight million Kashmiris were barricaded in their homes, but before noon, everyone in Kashmir is sure about the reason for which they are being locked up inside their homes and cut off from the world.

India’s Home Minister declares in the Parliament that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution will be revoked. With an overwhelming majority, by the next evening, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 had been passed by the upper as well as the lower house. The act strips Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status — which includes its right to have its own constitution and its own flag. It also strips it of statehood and partitions it into two Union territories controlled directly by New Delhi through a selected Administration.

The passing of the act is welcomed in Parliament by the very British tradition of desk-thumping. Colonialism persists.

The disobedient people have been tamed, assimilated.

BJP delivered the deed.

In India, people are celebrating on the streets, distributing sweets.

The internet is flooded with horrifying misogyny. The fetish of marrying ‘fair’ Kashmiri women is now out in the open.

Kashmiris under communication blackout are unaware of the reactions and responses.

The channels of communication and news disseminated are carefully crafted.

In the absence of TV and internet, people bring out the radio and tune into BBC to try and figure out what is happening next door.

While the jingoistic Indian channels were off-air, international media helped Kashmiris to know what was happening in the streets outside. The streets which were out of bounds for Kashmiris.

Father, who is a daily wage laborer, started worrying, and his blood pressure was increasing. I had no money, and nowhere to buy medicines from. The curfew and the siege meant depletion of savings, if any.

As the humiliated people bludgeoned into isolation, sewed by razor wire, streets occupied by government forces, spied on by drones high in the sky, living under a complete communications blackout; they were helpless and frustrated about themselves, the only reprieve in absence of communication and information was the pleasant evening sunset.

Why was the world’s largest democracy so afraid of people?


Epilogue: Decolonize, Demilitarize, Demand

August 5, 2020

The headline of a daily newspaper on August 6, 2019, had screamed J&K: Divided, disempowered, downgraded. Very few could access information. I read the “old news” in the month of October when a friend managed to move past the maze of concertina wires, and reach me.

He showed me the pictures of his two-month-old daughter and the newspaper clipping with clots of people reading the sacrilegious newspaper. She was born on Aug 7, 2019.

He had been through hell, and I didn’t know anything about it.

It is a year, and Kashmir is silent. There is a quivering on the lips and huge lump in the throat. But the moment the whispers are heard, the whip is lashed. Silence ensued. The noose around the neck tightened. The trigger on the gun unlocked.

Graveyards are growing.

Surveillance mounts.

Even death is under surveillance. And there is surveillance on silence too.

But in silence, Kashmiris are remembering.

In silence, they have been committing to memory the deeds, and the dreadful dates.


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